Just minutes from his latest six-part documentaries The end is Nai, Bill Nye gets wet in a rainstorm. A hurricane later rams him into the windshield of a car. In a later episode, he erupts into a fiery inferno after being hit by debris from a wayward comet.
Don’t worry: Nye, the science teacher and engineer who rose to fame in the 1990s thanks to his much-loved Bill Nye, the learned man show, meets his (fictional) death in every single episode. In a recent interview with find out Nye explains the apocalyptic framework behind his biggest-budget series to date: “We have to scare people.”
Bill Nye on The end is Nai
Launching on Peacock in 2022, the series takes viewers through six scientifically plausible mass disasters – from a supervolcano eruption to a global blackout caused by coronal mass ejectionin which electrically charged particles from the sun would create a magnetic field that shuts off power to the planet.
Read more: Are we ready for the next big solar storm?
Nye acts as a tour guide—and human disaster dummy—for each scenario, demonstrating how planet-shattering disasters like deadly earthquakes, drying dust storms, and record-breaking hurricanes would play out. The show was shot on a soundstage in Montreal, with Nye in front of a green screen for much of the production. This allowed the showrunners to later add impressive digital effects that demonstrate what, say, dodging debris from an asteroid might look like.
“I think the CGI makes the disaster more believable,” says Nye, who points to a moment from the show second episode when trying to outrun an avalanche of ash and smoke resulting from a volcanic eruption. “When you see the volcanic pyroclastic cloud of death blow away [through] Bozeman, Montana, and then me in a car, I think that’s pretty compelling.”
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom: each episode follows a global disaster with science-backed solutions—many of which focus on limiting the impacts of climate change. Nye describes how he teamed up with A family man creator Seth MacFarlane and producer Brannon Braga, known for their work on Star Trek and sci-fi comedy series orville, to show what disasters look like in real life and how to stop them.
“We perfected this idea of a disaster movie in the beginning, an optimistic look at the future in the second half,” Nye says. “And that’s what we did.”
Bill Nye and Disaster Movies
in The end is Nai, the ever-bow-tie-wearing Nye doesn’t mince words about the series’ disaster movie roots — in one episode he references the 1998 blockbuster. Armageddon. Still, the series cuts through the spectacle by blending CGI simulations with real-life disaster scenes, such as weather footage from Hurricane Harveywhich crashed off the coast of Texas in 2017. In another episode, a clip shows the destruction caused by 1964 Alaska Earthquakewhich Nye remembers from his childhood.
“I was in third grade,” he says. “Alaska was this remote thing; had just become a country. And we had this footage – real footage of this man who was a ship’s ship, who was on the deck of a ship. And we were able to expand it and make it cool and exciting.”
But when it comes to movies, is there a particular disaster movie that left its mark on Nye?
“[The] Towering Hell,” he says, referring to 1974 movie disaster about a fire engulfing a skyscraper in San Francisco. “They just built a big model of a skyscraper and shot kerosene out of little jets. It was great storytelling; it was storytelling with technology that existed 50 years ago.”
About NASA’s DART mission to break up asteroids
Some parts of The end is Nai a distortion closer to reality than you think. When he talked about how we might deflect an asteroid onto a collision course with Earth, Nye described a promising solution on the horizon at the time — NASA’s Dual Asteroid Redirection Test, or DART, in which the agency plans to smash a golf cart spacecraft into an asteroid. , to change its trajectory.
Now we have proof of the mission’s success: NASA announced that the DART spacecraft actually managed to shift the orbit of the space rock in late 2022. In March. five studies published in Nature revealed the craft’s final moments, as well as the aftermath of its collision.
“People weren’t sure it was going to work,” says Nye, who notes he was at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland — the mission’s command center — to witness the historical moment. “The [asteroid] it was so far away. And you couldn’t direct [the spacecraft] by radio link; the time for the radio signal to get there was too long. The thing had to move by itself, it had to be autonomous.
Read more: James Webb and Hubble captured the aftermath of DART hitting an asteroid
“And it did, it fell right into it,” adds Nye, who is CEO of The Planetary Society, an organization that promotes space exploration. “And it worked.”
In other words, he continues, if humanity ever does if we find a piece of space debris headed straight for us, we’ll be able to prevent the unthinkable from happening.
“When we find an asteroid with our name on it, we’ll do something about it,” Nye says. “We’re going to build a spaceship or a set of spaceships. We’ll look into it. We will find a way. And we’ll find the money so they don’t kill us all.
“Just don’t send Bruce Willis,” he adds. “That’s not the way to do it. You need to do something more complex and subtle.
Bill Nye and climate change
Nye has come a long way from donning a white lab coat to teach the kids of the 90s buoyancy of objects or different phases of matter. In recent years, he has become an active advocate in the fight against climate change. See, for example, his 2017 Netflix series. Bill Nye saves the world, in which he breaks down the science of global warming and tackles topics like climate change denial.
So perhaps it’s no surprise that The end is Nai sees its star once again beating the drum of climate change catastrophe. In an early episode, for example, Nye lays out the scientific plausibility of hurricanes more destructive than any we’ve seen thanks to our ever-warming oceans. He later outlines solutions that could help us alleviate or prevent this possibility, such as using wind turbines as a storm buffer or harnessing carbon capture technology to extract CO2 from the air.
Nye credits MacFarlane, the show’s executive producer, with the decision to center around frighteningly realistic end-of-the-world scenarios. “At the writers’ meeting, [MacFarlane] I really had that insight,” adds Nye. “He said, ‘The conservative media is scaring people. We have to scare people.”
Read more: Is Bill Nye, the scientist, really a scientist?
Apocalyptic framing aside, throughout the series Nye’s unwavering optimism for mitigating human-caused climate change is on full display.
“You have to be an optimist or you won’t get anything done,” he says. “And the other thing that makes me very optimistic is that young people will not continue to behave like this. As young people dominate the electorate, they will vote for leaders who will make change – and we will change the world.
Nye also points to another global conflict humanity is overcoming as a reason to remain hopeful, describing how both of his parents were World War II veterans.
“My mother was recruited by the Navy to work in code breaking; she was a cryptanalyst,” he says. “My father spent four years as a prisoner of war. And I mention this because at the time everyone was at war. Every farmer, every electrician, every truck driver, every scientist. All were working to resolve this global conflict. And they did.
“Come on guys,” Nye adds. “We are the United States. Let’s lead the world and do this.”
Listen to our full interview with Bill Nye here.